My Top 10 Horror Movies

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In about 1996 I guess you could say I “discovered” horror.

In the 5 years or so that followed I made it my mission to go through all the classics and big name horror flicks.

I did this the same way most people do, I read a few lists and articles on the topic and went about seeking them out in my local video store. This in itself created issues and it wasn’t until this decade that horror “arrived” as a legitimate money making genre. In the mid 90’s you couldn’t download the movies, you couldn’t jump on Ebay and find them easily so I was pretty much confined and limited to what the local Video Ezy had on the shelf, which often wasn’t much.

Most video shops in my experience had the usual 10 to 15 flicks, a couple of Freddie or Jason movies (usually the more recent sequels), some terrible creature flicks, Evil Dead, The Shining, Jaws and maybe a Stepfather or a misplaced Se7en, which is not horror and even The Lost Boys, which must be a joke.

I would say 85% of horror movies that I have seen since straight out suck, I’ve seen at least a few hundred and might only highly recommend 25 or 30, and justify maybe 50 as better than average, (and I don’t think I am that hard a marker). The problem this brings is that when a website or magazine lists the Top 100 Horror films of all time there is a good chance many of them just aren’t that deserving and are in to fill the numbers, or they pigeonhole other movies that simply aren’t horror, Se7en is the usual example.

I still like watching sucky horror movies to kill a couple of hours, and despite myself I sort of enjoy watching many of them, even those that I know are bad.

Now I’ve seen The Shining, The Omen, Halloween, Jaws and Rosemary’s Baby over the years, and while they all had their moments aside from perhaps The Omen none were particularly scary. (I have decided to revisit The Omen in the near future.)

So what we have here is MY Top 10, MY favourite horror movies over the journey, so while I’m happy if you want to disagree with my choices please remember I don’t think I can get my own opinion wrong.

Honourable Mentions

Before we get to the Top Ten, here are some that narrowly missed the cut, and on another day any or all might have made the main list. (Not today though for some reason.)

Near Dark – Great vampire film despite never saying the word “Vampire” in it. The bar scene and performances by many leading character actors of the 80’s elevate this.

The Blob – Only saw this for the first time last year, pretty solid effort though and one you shouldn’t ignore. Some memorable death scenes, admirable special effects and moments of comedy add up to a good 80’s horror movie.

The Thing – Speaking of special effects, you won’t find any as good or any that go as far as this flick does. Nothing was “too hard” or “too extreme”, as anyone who has seen the dog/creature amalgam will attest. Not just a special effects movie though, this is a really good film with some cool scenes, great acting and you are left wondering who the “Bad” guy is at all times.

Let the Right One In – Not often can you use the adjectives “beautiful”, ‘”charming” and “sweet” to describe a horror movie. Here you can though. Not the scariest movie out there but one of the best made in recent times.

An American Werewolf In London – Blackest of the black comedy, this movie is famous (and rightfully so) for the werewolf transformation scene, but it is a very entertaining film and keeps your attention throughout.

The Sixth Sense / Frailty – Both superior thrillers, but the key word here is thriller. I love The Sixth Sense and really like Frailty and recommend them both especially if you haven’t seen them. (Obvious call but especially The Sixth Sense, it’s awesome even the ninth time.)

10/ Nada. Zip. Zero.

I had Frailty here as I did really like it, but when I watched it again to describe it I have decided that it is far more a psychological thriller than a horror, so I’m not putting it on the list.

I’ll fill this later when something earns the spot, I just didn’t think anything else on my shortlist warranted the position and I refuse to have a Top 10 of anything that I am not satisfied with.

So there.

9/ Event Horizon

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Once you’ve seen this once and know what’s coming up it does diminish the effectiveness of the flick, but that happens with many films.

This one I saw in the cinema when it came out in 1997, as a 20 something and largely a newbie to the genre this was a pretty wacky and way out film, and even now that I’ve seen hundreds more horror movies this still has an undeniable power when you watch it, even though many flaws now appear that I didn’t see the first time.

The story goes there is/was a revolutionary spaceship that bent time to instantly move the ship and crew through space, making time travel much swifter to say the least. Unfortunately on the Titanic’s…. ahem Event Horizon’s maiden journey the thing vanished without a trace. The film starts with a ship being informed that it has been located and to check it out, Alien (and Aliens) style.

And if you’ve seen those movies or several similar you know that’s probably not a call you want to take.

Turns out the ship and crew were taking a cruise through another dimension….. HELLLLLLLLLLL. Scary innit? Oh and basically a large chunk of Hell came back with it.

The crew is basically the usual bunch of scientists, soldiers and crewmen, and of course when they locate the ship and go aboard they encounter the evil within, only it has no form and is more of a series of visions and naughty influences. And this is where the fun lies, crewmen have increasingly gory visions, and one by one end up doing unspeakable things to themselves and each other. Ultimately as always in this situation a final showdown occurs between the bad and good guy, who for some reason isn’t afflicted to any great extent.

As mentioned above this film is over the top and veers dangerously close to silly near the end, but it really does have a sense of originality and you can tell the director thought if he had one crack at a horror film he was going to cram every damn thing into it that he could.

The risk actually paid off, here is a film that could have been better but for what it is it is actually quite a good sci-fi horror movie. There is enough in it to avoid simply ripping off the Alien films, some of the set designs are really cool and the lighting and limited special effects are all complementary.

As far as the actors go Sam Neill is just over the top enough to be effective without turning into a comic character and Larry Fishburne is just straight enough to hint that the plot events could actually happen, even when everyone knows that what we are watching is ludicrous. Actually the supporting actors are all very solid in their limited roles and in some cases you actually care as their entrails and eyeballs are spread over the ship.

I know the director Paul W.S. Anderson is widely reviled but at least he generally has a crack at making something (slightly) different to the usual teen friendly fare, I also liked Resident Evil to a point (the sequels sucked) and thought Death Race was a very effective if totally pointless movie. At least here he threw everything he could at the screen and I would argue more than half of it stuck.

You’ll love it or hate it the first time you see it. I loved it.

8/ 28 Weeks Later

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I watched 28 Days Later some time ago and loved the first half, loathed everything after the tunnel full of rats. I guess this puts me on the outer of a lot of horror movie chat-rooms (sob), I just thought after a masterful slow build the movie let itself down with some weird and unnecessary soldier subplot.

If a movie shows promise, especially a horror movie, I’ll generally check out the sequel even if I suspect it won’t be much chop.

While I wasn’t a big fan of 28 Days I can see that it had the makings of something much better, when I found out that the sequel was being made by different guys I was concerned but knew I was going to watch it anyway.

First let me get this straight, after the first sequence nothing in this film is as good, but that isn’t a major diss. The first 15 minutes of 28 Weeks Later are brutal, uncompromising and include the biggest “Would you do the same thing?” moment that I have seen in a film in a decade.

Long story short, after the first infected assault only Don (Robert Carlyle) remains to tell the tale, and we jump forward to when London, now apparently free from infection, is cautiously being repopulated. Some of the new inhabitants include Don’s 2 kids, Tammy and Andy. The new arrivals and survivors are all kept in a strictly guarded quarantine area while the army clear the streets and sweep formerly affected areas to ensure that they are now “clean”.

Of course we know what happens next…

After a great scene where the re-infection occurs the soldiers get involved, only as they can’t tell the difference between a goodie and an infected baddie they are given the order to “clear the streets and let God sort ‘em out”. Again a pretty horrific order to give, and to take as a soldier, this movie doesn’t shy away from asking the tough questions.

The second half of the film involves the two kids and their two soldier benefactors, Scarlet and Doyle trying to escape to the safe zone, where they are to be picked up in a chopper by Doyle’s mate Stone.

There are several chases, some by infected, some by soldiers, and unfortunately some by one key infected. The only disappointing part of the film in my opinion, is that the director made an effort to make the plot play out in a realistic manner, then compromised and allowed repeated coincidence meetings with the same character to build drama I guess. (I just felt it was a little too contrived.)

In true horror movie fashion you are never sure who will make it and who won’t, and as mentioned previously a few times you are almost put in the character’s shoes and asked “What would you do?”, which I always like… Oh and sometimes they do what you might not have.

The last scenes set up another potential sequel, and while I didn’t really thing that 28 Days deserved 28 Weeks in the first place, I will line up for 28 Months if they choose to make it.

This is a movie with flaws, but the good bits far outweigh the bad.

7/ Slither

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The second “comedy-horror” on the list. Slither is directed by the same guy who wrote the next flick down.

I love Slither as it is a dressed up B movie that knows its audience, at times hilarious, occasionally gory, always going a bit further than you expect, this is just a really fun movie.

The plot has a comet hitting Earth with a groobly creature inside whose only aim is to take over the inhabitants of the planet, usual stuff really. It lands in a sleepy backwards town somewhere in rural America, filled with carefully drawn characters who all act realistically when the most ridiculous events befall them.

The funniest / grossest scenes include:

  • –       The “impregnation” of a young women by what seem to be cake mix pourers, only they emanate from an abducted character.
  • –       A cow is taken away by a part person / part monster, and a cop who tries to stop the event is literally torn in half.
  • –       The aforementioned impregnated chickie rapidly expands and “births” thousands of offspring simultaneously.
  • –       The finale where the creature draws local inhabitants to him and they “merge” with him, making him larger and grosser for the final fight.

Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks and Gregg Henry all shine and obviously have a great time making the movie. The humour is best when it is pitch black, which it is for most of the movie, and the last 15 minutes are as absurd as they are brilliantly funny.

I love this movie and even though it was released 3 years ago I have seen it at least 5 times already. Which reminds me, I must watch it again soon.

Note: For those that got this far and are wondering where “Shaun of the Dead” is. I absolutely love SotD, but apart from about 2 minutes of gore, notably the death of David, and the fact that it deals with zombies, it ain’t no horror flick.

6/ Dawn of the Dead (2004)

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First allow me to digress. I’ve seen all of Romero’s “Dead” flicks; Night/Dawn/Day/Land & Diary… and they were all OK even though Land and Diary were a step down in quality.

What I can’t understand is everyone who wants to elevate the work beyond a movie and gives them legendary status due to the supposed “messages” that appear, especially with Dawn.

“Oh, it’s a sneaky message about consumerism, not just a zombie movie.”

Wrong kids, it’s just a zombie movie and not much more, before we get too excited with subtext in certain parts it’s worth noting that there were 25/30 minute stretches where they either just shot zombies or hid and defended themselves from zombies. Then when the bikies came to pillage the mall what significance did that have politically? What about the white guy dying and the black guy living?

Please don’t try to sell me the genius that is Romero and call nothing of substance happening an act of subtlety.

Rant over, now to the Dawn of the Dead remake. A masterpiece of subtle allegory masquerading as a simple genre piece…(Not really.)

What I like about Dawn of the Dead 04 (DotD from here) is the fact that it is made by a guy who knew what he wanted to make and he made it. The fact that “zombies shuffle, they can’t run” is irrelevant when you consider that zombies aren’t real! Come on, if a dead corpse can magically be reanimated and walk around craving flesh and brains, why shouldn’t it be able to trot a little?

If you have a movie with a fabricated element in it, you can make it do whatever you want. If you have a unicorn and want it to eat nothing but fairy bread, then dammit if that unicorn doesn’t eat fairy bread.

Again, get over yourselves guys, it’s a movie.

  • –       Orcs aren’t real.
  • –       Quidditch is made up.
  • –       Robots don’t come back from the future to kill teenagers. (But if they did I hope they go for Shia LeBouf.)
  • –       Cars don’t turn into robots to kill Shia LeBouf. (More’s the pity.)

If you are a director or a writer they do what you tell them to do, if it entertains, great.

Second rant over.

DotD is only a remake in as much as it is about people who shelter in a mall after a zombie outbreak. Not many other similarities exist

It starts out slow, for about 5 minutes. Then BANG! into it for the next 90 odd minutes. It’s hard to discuss the plot as it really is simple, survivors gather at the local shopping centre and work out what to do next. Of course there are events and situations that get in the way of their temporarily peaceful existence.

The cast includes a bunch of actors who you wouldn’t expect to be in a horror flick, which often have a bunch of unknowns to minimize costs and make the audience wonder “Who will croak next?”. Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber and Mekhi Phifer are all established and respected actors.

The guy I liked most though was someone I had never heard of before and I haven’t heard of since, Ty Burrell. He plays Steve, a smarmy wanker who turns up in a truck-full of survivors. Steve only cares for himself, is totally self absorbed and doesn’t care who he offends. For some reason Steve cracked me up and I almost hoped he would make it to the end, even though we know in advance that he must die.

I would actually ask why they decided to leave in the first place, given that they had pretty much everything they wanted in the mall and you would suggest they might consider themselves luck to find anywhere safe in the first place. (But without leaving you wouldn’t get the kick-ass finale, so I forgive them and their plot devices.)

It is violent, unflinching and has some great individual scenes, including the finale. It is also above all else quite original thanks to the vision of Zack Snyder, who has made 2 more original films since, neither of which I really liked though.

You could make the argument that DotD is more an action flick than a horror movie, but the fact that it has wall to wall zombies I guess is enough of a loophole to let it into this list at the 5 spot.

5/ Evil Dead 2 – Dead By Dawn

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For anyone under 25, Sam Raimi is the guy who makes Spiderman movies. (The first was good without being outstanding and the second and third not too crash hot.) Anyone reading this should know however that he started out as many directors, do making small low budget films, the most notable being the Evil Dead series.

While the first Evil Dead is a very good film, Raimi thought he might do better when a sequel was greenlit with what you would guess is a bigger budget. Instead of carrying the story forward, Raimi essentially remade his own film, only with more amusing parts with tongue firmly lodged in cheek.

The story is simple and still remains a staple nowadays. Young couples go to a deserted/abandoned cabin in the woods to “get it on” and find that unspeakable nastiness dwells there in some form of another.

In this case the demons are awakened by one of the “kids” reading a passage from the Necronomicon, the “Book of the Dead”, which was carelessly left lying around the cabin.

What ensues is vaguely organized chaos, most everyone is possessed at one point in the film or another, limbs and heads are severed, blood goes EVERYWHERE (and in various garish colours) and there are some genuinely funny and imaginative moments including:

– Ash (Bruce Campbell) being accosted by his own reflection.

– An eye pops out of a demon’s head and flies into a screaming mouth.

– Ash’s headless girlfriend attacks him with a chainsaw.

– Ash must cut off his own possessed hand, and then has a one on one fight with it.

Ash of course is Bruce Campbell, one of Raimi’s childhood friends and a self-confessed B movie actor. For some reason his fans are devoted regardless of how crappy the movie, as long as he is in it, and will seek out some of the trashiest flicks knowing full well that they suck in advance. I personally have seen such magical fare as Alien Apocalypse, The Man with the Screaming Brain and My Name is Bruce, which wasn’t terrible, but was hardly a magical 90 minutes.

Bruce is great in this, never thinks he is above the material, throws out one-liners that have since been endlessly quoted, and is subjected to some of the most aggressive punishment both at the hands of demons and also himself. Despite the comedy moments this is definitely a gory flick and has some special effects that are pretty solid, if obvious, for the time.

Not the scariest film on this list but definitely the funniest, narrowly edging “Slither”. I see Raimi is heading back to horror with Drag me to Hell released in mid 2009, hopefully Spidey hasn’t made him soft and he returns successfully to the genre that made him.

4/ The Ring

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One of two remakes on the list (perhaps three if you include Evil Dead 2 as a remake of Evil Dead), this being the most faithful to the original (Japanese) source material.

Once again a fairly ludicrous sounding plot involving a haunted videotape that kills anyone who watches it within 7 days.

Naomi Watts adds some class to the flick, with a solid supporting cast of mostly no names.

The Ring gets my vote for the best individual scene in a horror film in the last 10 or so years, when Samara decides to literally “think outside the box”. Up until this point in the flick I already liked the movie a lot, but this pushed it over the top and instantly pushed it into my top 10, since then I have watched the movie a couple more times and over the years it has gradually pushed itself up the ladder.

The best part of this film is the consistency of the tone, everything is a drab washed out grey, there are no comic relief bits or happy moments. The kid in the film is over serious without ever being “hammy”, the leads are strong and no-one stoops to parody.

Oh, and the video itself is actually pretty spooky and I like the way that they integrate sections into the film again without allowing corniness to intrude.

Just a really good horror movie. I would recommend this strongly to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet because it is a remake. I too hate the fact that Hollywood seems to think they can do everything better but here is a remake that you can enjoy it in its own right without needing to be so precious.

3/ Session 9

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This was at #8 a week ago when I was drafting and ordering the list, then I watched it for this list and was blown away. Without doubt this is the most scary film on the list, the most dedicated to creating tension and unease without comic relief and probably one of the most well crafted.

I’m not totally against flashy slashers, though seeing that there are none on this list maybe I am. I’m not yet tired of gore in films when it adds to the film, instead of just being a token “look at this” moment.

I like non-formulaic horror, love a good horror comedy, and Session 9 sees a guy writing horror to be scary, tense and nothingelse. No cheap scares, no gimmick gore and no doofy guys just looking for poon tang.

A team of asbestos removal guys win a job clearing a mental hospital, almost everyone in the film, including the hospital, have dark secrets and things to hide, which of course arise at various times to their detriment. A small tight cast of quality character actors are faithful to the airtight script, the camera work is creative without being gimmicky, and the ending will blow you away. Aside from being scary, it is also the most plausible of the films on this list, this is a movie that could actually happen.

Look, I wrote about this in the last few days in far more expansive fashion and now over 48 hours since I finished it for a second time I still mull over the events. I watched Session 9 in the ideal serious horror movie setting, on my own, at night time, in the dark. I wrote afterwards that for the last half of the movie I wanted it to end as I was getting so wound up, but when it did even though I was dumbfounded at how good it was and wanted to watch it again. (I did rewatch a couple of key scenes to confirm details of my review and to see how they fit into the plot with the benefit of knowing the ending.)

All I can say is that I watched it once and mustn’t have been paying too much attention, as I knew I liked it, even enough to include it on my Top 10 without seeing it for years. The second time through though I instantly promoted it wayyyyyy up the list and went to Ebay, because this is/was the only film on the list I didn’t own on DVD. This will be rectified very, very shortly.

If you’re reading this there is a chance you’ve seen some of these flicks, Session 9 is probably the least well known.

If you haven’t seen this watch it now. If you have seen it and wasn’t totally into it give it another shot, but alone in the dark without distraction.

Hopefully you’ll be thankful you did. I was.

2/ The Exorcist

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During my afore-mentioned search for horror movie knowledge one of the films I knew I had to see was The Exorcist, but I put it off for perhaps 12 months until I had seen most everything on the store rack.

Why?

I guess because the few things I had read which referenced the film labeled it either “the most” or at least “one of the most” frightening films in history. Keep in mind this was when I still thought House and Lake Placid were horror.

The basic plot is simple, a young girl is possessed by a demon and her mother, out of ideas turns to the church to perform an exorcism to banish the demon.

Now I’ve seen the movie a bunch of times I can say it is still one of the most disturbing so-called “Classics” in the horror genre.

Given that it was made in the 70’s the movie is allowed time to build through the first hour, unveiling the situation slowly and developing the characters through various interweaving plotlines.

Also masterful is the use of subliminal images, single frame shocks that you might miss the first time or even subsequent viewings, as they were only used sparingly they can be quite unsettling, and definitely don’t bode well for the remainder of the film.

Parts of The Exorcist are still genuinely shocking thirty something years later, even though they have now been parodied and discussed well beyond overkill. The acting is solid, the special effects are great for the era and even though it apparently ruined Linda Blair’s career through typecasting it clearly showed that her ability was far above most other child actors by making what should have been a ludicrous shock film into an all time classic.

1/ The Descent

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If I’m honest The Exorcist is a better film than The Descent, but purely based upon the first time that I watched The Descent it gets the top spot as my favourite horror flick.

My sister-in-law travels to countries where, shall we say “bargain” DVD’s can be found. When she is due to visit she gives me a heads up and I provide a list of films that I would like to see. Invariably she returns with a few from the list and quite often grabs a few of what she calls “serial killer” films, unfortunately movies that 90% of the time are complete rubbish.

Disclaimer: This is totally not her fault, most of the time I do a bit of homework in advance so the list normally has all the current and upcoming films that I am chasing. The added DVD’s are thrown in as a favour so I can’t complain if they aren’t all instant classics.

However sometime in mid to late 2005 she stopped by with a pile of DVD’s and I spent the next few weeks going through the pile, starting with my list requests and progressing to the throw ins.

One night I was home alone and whacked in a DVD without even looking at the label, and well you know where I’m headed with this.

Not knowing anything about the film was the best thing that could possibly have happened, after 10 minutes it is an adventure film, after 30 a film about a caving trip gone wrong, and after about an hour a full blown creature flick featuring gore, moments of suspense and superior pacing.

Now obviously everyone who is a fan of the genre has seen the film and has their own opinion, for the 3 of you who haven’t stop reading and go get the DVD. I also know that The Descent 2 is soon to be released, and while I’ll no doubt watch it I dread the prospect of what they might do with the material.

The original flick though is a happy miracle, a horror film that initially wasn’t overhyped, doesn’t simply follow a formula and has a cast of no-names that in the most part you get to know and actually care if one of them is killed. (A smart move has one of them getting hurt badly before any of the slaughter starts, if you go straight to beheadings and disembowelments it can be easy as a viewer to say “where do you go from here?” and get jaded quickly.)

You never really know where the film is headed until the appearance of the “creepy-crawlies”, which is also a great reveal. I am a little claustrophobic so the first half had me on edge, so when the crawlers enter it was almost a relief from the build up of tension. Of course the last 20 odd minutes are fairly hectic and I’d be lying if I said the film didn’t degenerate into a series of gore scenes, but well paced and attractive gore scenes nonetheless.

The acting is good, the story is fresh and vaguely plausible and the direction helps the film progress instead of filling the gaps between killings.

I’d seen Dog Soldiers previously and thought it was pretty cool without standing out, I have since seen Doomsday which thanks to The Descent I really looked forward to and was really disappointed by despite watching it twice.

Director Neil Marshall already has a tendency of “borrowing” from a laundry list of other films, Alien, Mad Max, Carrie, and others I can’t recall now.

A lot of other directors learn through the early films and get better, some start hungry and ambitious with great ideas and then vanish into obscurity. Marshall has made one dud, one solid flick and one classicand while that doesn’t guarantee another is in the future we can hope.

I can’t recommend this film enough, probably best seen without knowing the plot in advance, but now everyone has seen it get some popcorn and enjoy the last half in particular.

(Like 28 Weeks Later I anticipate and dread the sequel in equal measure.)

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There you have it, 9 of the Top 10. I am once again surfing the net and trawling far and wide to uncover more hidden gems in the horror genre, (suggestions welcomed). I’ll update the list when something proves itself worthy, I really hope it is this year, with Drag Me To Hell, Trick R Treat and the Korean vampire movie Thirst coming up we at least have a chance.

Fingers crossed.

OGR

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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2 Responses to My Top 10 Horror Movies

  1. Dave Martin says:

    It’s amazing how the idea of a horror movie has changed since the days of the first vampire or wolfman movie. I was told by my parents that many people didn’t take a shower after watching the movie “psycho”. All this showed was a shadow of someone being stabbed and blood running down the drain. That wouldn’t even scare a kid these days.

  2. WniO says:

    romeros dawn of the dead is horrendously overrated so i agree with that, however i cant say i agree with session 9 being so high on your list. the ending is awful. /// yeah, i would replace evil dead with “trick r treat” for sure. some that you might want to check out…
    black christmas (the original), eden lake, fatal attraction, the texas chainsaw massacre (the original) REC, funny games, silent hill, splinter.

    gg yo.

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